Can You Ever Really Tell a True Story?

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Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.

-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

“I think you really really need to surrender to the fact that an essay requires a conclusion that is neat in a way that life is not,” my writing teacher said to me last year. I’ve been working with her for a while and she knows—I really really hate neat conclusions. To me, they seem like copouts. It’s taken me a long time to accept the true complexity of life and I desperately want my writing to reflect that. And when it doesn’t, I feel like I’ve failed as a writer.

A few months ago I submitted a piece about an old friendship of mine that seemed to have run its course. The editor accepted my first draft but wanted me to tighten up the ending. It was too vague, she said—which made perfect sense considering the fact that I was still ambivalent about the friendship and unsure of where we stood. I knew the general story arc: that we were best friends when we were young, that we had drifted as we grew up, and that time and thousands of miles between us had shifted things for us in a way that might not be reconcilable. I ended the rough draft on a vague note about how sometimes being an adult means not taking action, but rather letting relationships turn into whatever they’re supposed to be, and then bearing the uncertainty that comes with that. I believe that with all my heart.

Except that uncertainty is not usually what people want from their reading. Admittedly some people (and publications) are more comfortable than others with ambiguity, but generally speaking, readers (and thus editors) want some degree of resolution at the end of a piece of writing. If they wanted haziness they could just return to their own lives.

The fact is, storytelling is about making choices—it’s about choosing what to include and what to leave out. It’s about arranging the included events and facts in a particular sequence so that their meaning is accessible to the reader. Which means sometimes, telling a story is about providing a conclusion that might over-simplify a complicated issue fraught with doubt and confusion and conflict. Continue reading

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Jump In, The Water’s Warm: My Relationship with Social Media

photo-1425116100155-1ac0797442e1When social media first came around, I did not jump to join the masses. I preferred to be invisible. My life, as the cliche goes, had taken some bad turns and there was nothing about it that I wanted memorialized in photographs, much less posted for the world to see. I didn’t believe I had anything worth showing and so, I stayed as far off the grid as I possibly could.

When I was 23 I left my hometown, and in 12 years went back once, for half a day. I kept in touch with one person, who would occasionally tell me that someone had messaged her on Facebook to find me. Another friend reached out to my sister to ask her where I was. I would get the messages and let them go unanswered.

Truman Capote wrote of grief in In Cold Blood—he said that it draws a circle around you which separates you from anything outside of it. That’s what fear did to me in my 20s, and I disappeared into that circle. I didn’t want to be seen and so, I made sure I wasn’t. Continue reading

What Happens When a Friendship Fades Away?

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It’s not uncommon for a fight between 5 year-olds to end with someone shouting: “You’re not my friend anymore!” There’s an honesty there that I can respect, a directness that’s refreshing: Let there be no confusion — this is where we stand.

Adulthood, however, is something a lot less clear.

I have a friend who I’ve known for almost 20 years. We’ve seen each other through a lot: cheating boyfriends, health problems, depression, divorce. We once went five years without contact because I was lost and selfish and couldn’t bear to have anyone in my life who believed in me. In that time she got married and I wasn’t there, and for that she has forgiven me. Which is all to say, our friendship is the durable kind.

But over the past few years, there’s been a subtle shift that’s been hard for me to admit, still harder to explain. We still love each other. We still want only good things for each other. But separated by thousands of miles and very different lifestyles, there’s a distance between us that is beginning to feel insurmountable. And I’m left wondering: What do you do when you can feel a friendship fading?

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*To read my brilliant answer to that question, head over to The Washington Post.

Bombs Away: The Anatomy of a Text-Grenade

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They say that the first step is admitting you have a problem. So, I have a problem. I’ve tried to stop on my own but this thing is bigger than I am—I can stop, I just can’t stay stopped. Every time I do it, I wake up the next morning remorseful and I swear that I’ll never do it again. But then I do.

My name is Dani and I launch text-grenades. I want to stop—I really do—I just don’t know how. Continue reading